About Stroke Onward

After a medical trauma like stroke, survival is job one. Job two is working to regain as many and as much of former capabilities as possible. But there is another less visible and sometimes even more challenging aspect of recovery — the emotional journey to rebuild identities and rewarding lives.  Survivors with ongoing disabilities often face dramatic changes to their lives and opportunities — relationships with family and friends, work and income, activities and hobbies, and more. Even survivors who recover all, or virtually all, of their capabilities often say they are “a different person” after a stroke. Their identities are often shaken, if not shattered. They are faced with what can be overwhelming and even paralyzing questions: Who am I now? How do I move forward with my life?

Our mission:

To provide stroke survivors, families and caregivers with more resources to help them navigate the emotional journey to rebuild their identities and rewarding lives.

Founding Story

One day Debra Meyerson is...

A Stanford University professor, with an expertise in gender, diversity, identity and organizational change;

A happily married mother of 3 almost grown children;

Healthy, fit, and athletic;

An accomplished woman in the prime of life.

And the Next...

A severe stroke nearly killed Debra, and left her with a paralyzed right side and no speech at all.

A teacher, wife, daughter, mother and friend suddenly unable to play those roles at all.

A fiercely independent woman now forced to rely on others for almost every need.

For three years...

Debra pursued every avenue for therapy possible with a drive and work ethic that many therapists said they rarely see.

She worked hard and determined to get her old life back as quickly as she could; any and all setbacks from her stroke were viewed as temporary.

Debra could walk, albeit with a limp. Her right arm was still not functional. But most difficult, her speech was limited and came with great effort.

Debra had accomplished so much. She was independent. She could drive, travel on her own, take care of all her basic needs.

And then...

Debra reached the end of the runway for Stanford’s medical leave policy.

Still not able to do the full work of a professor, mostly because of her speech, Debra had to give up her tenured position -- and the career she loved and had spent decades building.

Debra had fought so hard to recover from the physical insults of stroke. Even if further improvements were still possible, Stanford’s decision forced Debra to acknowledge that life - and her identity as she knew it - was forever changed. This was a second trauma, invisible to most, that devastated her.

Who am I now?

That question haunted Debra, but also set her on a path of self-discovery. Her academic expertise in identity gave her a unique lens and framework through which to evaluate her own dramatic life changes. As a social scientist, she wanted to understand if other survivors experienced a similar crisis of identity. With her family’s support, she decided to research and write a book.

At first, candidly, a major goal of the book was to “prove she was back.” That in a slightly different form, she could still be an academic. But the writing process became its own journey-- and a very powerful form of therapy. Debra was forced to think deeply about her values and her new reality. She allowed herself to grieve what she had lost. And that allowed her to begin looking forward. She also realized how important it would be to understand why she had made choices throughout her life and career in order to find a path toward living happily despite new constraints.

While Debra had previously authored dozens of articles and several books independently, she was now very dependent on others to help her produce a book. She knew what she wanted to say, but her writing -- transforming thoughts into written or spoken word -- was severely limited by her aphasia.

At first Debra worked with her husband, Steve, and then with Sally Collings, who helped conduct interviews and prepare early content. Lots of other family and friends pitched in along the way. In the final drafting, she worked most closely with her son, Danny Zuckerman, the book’s official co-author, with Steve still in support. Five years after Debra’s decision to write a book, Identity Theft- Rediscovering Ourselves after Stroke (Andrews McMeel Publishing, May 2019) was released.

For Debra, relying on others throughout the writing process was incredibly frustrating, and she almost pulled the plug on several occasions. What kept her going was her growing understanding of the emotional challenges faced by other survivors and families, and the lack of resources to support them. She believed this book could help people.

Debra also knew she was extremely lucky to have a strong, supportive network of family and friends, more financial resources than most, and so many other advantages. But even with those advantages, her own emotional journey was brutal.

Debra’s experience and the research behind Identity Theft revealed a critical gap in the current medical support system. Survivors, and equally importantly their supporters, need more resources and guidance to assist with the emotional impact after stroke. This includes the invisible, often painful but crucial work required to consciously and deliberately rebuild one’s identity and a rewarding life.

Debra Meyerson and her husband Steve Zuckerman founded Stroke Onward to further the work begun through Identity Theft. They invite you to join them as they shine a spotlight on the emotional journey and redefine recovery -- too often presented solely as regaining old capabilities. Instead, recovery should also be about supporting a person to rebuild a happy and productive life, and a healthy sense of self, in the face of whatever capabilities can and cannot be regained.

Our Team

We’re Hiring!

Debra Meyerson, Co-founder, Co-Chair

Steve Zuckerman, Co-founder, Co-Chair

Debra Meyerson is an author, advocate and a professor at Stanford University Graduate School of Education. Prior to her stroke in 2010, Debra’s academic work focused on feminism, diversity, identity and organizational change;  a full academic resume and publication history is included in her Stanford Faculty Profile. Debra’s most recent book,  Identity Theft: Rediscovering Ourselves after Stroke (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2019) helps stroke survivors and those closest to them navigate the emotional journey that she has found very difficult—and rewarding. In addition to her work with Stroke Onward and her ongoing rehabilitation therapy, Debra serves on the boards of Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative (BAWSI) and the Pacific Stroke Association (PSA). Debra received her B.S. and M.S. from M.I.T. and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from Stanford University. 

Steve Zuckerman is President of Self-Help Federal Credit Union and Managing Director of Self-Help’s California operations. Self-Help is a nationally recognized Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), whose mission is to create and protect ownership and economic opportunity for underserved communities. Steve’s prior work experience includes almost 15 years with McCown De Leeuw & Co, a private investment firm, and consulting with Bain and Co. In addition to his work with Self-Help and Stroke Onward, Steve currently serves on the boards of Tides Foundation and Positive Coaching Alliance, as well as the New Market Tax Credit advisory board of Opportunity Fund. Steve earned a BA from Yale University and an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, where Debra Meyerson was his instructor.  

Debra and Steve live in the San Francisco Bay area, and have three adult children.  

Headshot image of Flannery O'Neil, Executive Director of Stroke Onward.

Flannery O’Neil, Executive Director

Flannery O’Neil, MPH received her Bachelor of Arts from American University and a Master of Public Health from A.T. Still University. She has worked in healthcare and public health for more than 15 years in both the non-profit and government sectors. Her areas of expertise include communications, data, public health program development and management, and organizational leadership. Most recently, she worked in stroke and cardiac quality improvement for the American Heart and Stroke Association and served in leadership roles for a local public health agency.

Since experiencing an ischemic stroke in 2017, she has worked to advocate both personally and professionally for the needs of people experiencing stroke including founding and leading two stroke support groups.

She lives in Colorado Springs with her husband, Andrew and their two dogs.

Jodi Kravitz, Program Director

Jodi Kravitz has always worked at the intersection of social mission and innovation. Before being recruited to help launch Stroke Onward, Jodi worked for almost a decade with FIRST, an award winning  nonprofit STEM inspiration program. Her responsibilities with FIRST LEGO League included program operations and partner relationships in more than 80 countries. She began her career working in strategic planning and other key roles for multiple national healthcare providers. Jodi has volunteered extensively for public television and other causes from her home on the seacoast in New Hampshire. Jodi received an MBA from Vanderbilt and a BA from Yale University, where she roomed next door to Steve Zuckerman her freshman year. 

Courtney Cooper, Communications Specialist

Courtney L. Cooper has worked for community college students on campus and nationwide. Through her work as President of the Student Senate for California Community Colleges (SSCCC), representing 2.1 million students, Cooper fought for system-wide changes through the legislature and the Board of Governors to improve student lives. During her tenure, the SSCCC helped over half a dozen laws to get passed, including AB 1995 for students with housing insecurity. In 2017, Courtney was awarded Woman of the Year: Rising Star by Senator Jim Beall for her legislative advocacy on behalf of the disabled, LGBTQ+, and former foster youths. Courtney received her associate degree in Intercultural Communication from Foothill College and is now in her final year completing her BA in Business Management at Menlo College, with a concentration in Entrepreneurship and Innovation. She plans to continue her work in advocacy for the disabled, especially for underserved communities.